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Nonprofit provides disabled vet smart home

by on September 12, 2019 8:52 AM

SPRING MILLS — Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick was an elementary school student when the 9/11 attacks occurred 18 years ago.

“I remember feeling powerless when it happened. I couldn’t do anything about it until nearly a decade later,” said Hartswick.

A ceremony was held at the home on the morning of Sept. 11.

He joined the U.S. Army in 2011 after he graduated from State College Area High School, just like so many members of his family had in the past. He made the decision to serve as a combat medic, just like his great-grandfather had in World War I.

Then, three years into his term of service, tragedy struck while he was serving in Afghanistan. While volunteering to assist an infantry platoon that was ambushed, Hartswick stepped on an IED and ultimately lost both his legs above the knee.

He also broke his hip, lost part of his right finger and right thumb, bilaterally perforated his eardrums and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.

But Hartswick said the most devastating loss of all was the loss of four of his fellow soldiers that day.

Hartswick went through a long recovery.

But through physical therapy and lots of support, Hartswick was able to find a positive outlook.

“From going from these injuries to where I am now, I really feel like I have a completely different life. It feels like eons ago,” said Hartswick.

“Everyone always says that they are sorry, but I am not. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. I regret the friends I lost that day, but you know, I have tried to make the best of a difficult situation and I think I have done a pretty good job,” he said.

But there are still many struggles. His current home is ADA compliant from the 1960s, so there is no ramp and the floors are carpeted, making it difficult to get around.

He said the little things make life difficult, like having to stir a pot on the stove while sitting in his chair. But, his new smart home has taken all those things into consideration.

Now, Hartswick will have a place that he can really call home.

With the help of corporate sponsors, volunteers and donations, the foundation was able to build his new, custom home that will help him live as independently as possible.

The home is completely wheelchair accessible, with wide hallways, oversized doorways and hardwood floors. It features pull-down kitchen cabinet shelves designed to enable easy access to plates, cups and bowls, a mechanized lift that allows the stove to be raised and lowered to wheelchair height, customized bathrooms, automated doors and security.

“This is going to be his forever home. He was able to pick out the land and pick out the layout,” said Andrew McClure, Tunnel to Towers’ national community engagement coordinator. “There are a lot of deserving service members, but we are narrowing in on the most catastrophically injured.”

“This home is built for him to not just survive, but to thrive. It gives him maximum independence, an open layout and the best security possible,” said McClure. “There is no excuse not to cook — he can roll right up and cook if he is in the chair. This is not a band aid. You want this to be a forever home. You want this to be where he can raise his family.”

The program has now built 85 homes for disabled service members.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation was established in honor of a fallen 9/11 firefighter.

“Stephen lost his life saving others on 9/11 and Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick risked his life to save his brothers on the battlefield. It is an honor to give him a home on this day and do something that makes a positive and lasting difference in his life,” said Tunnel to Towers chairman and CEO Frank Siller.

“September 11 is truly the most emotional day for the foundation. Our mindset since September 11 is to turn darkness into light, and recognize what was one of the darkest days in the country’s history, but there was so much good that day,” said McClure. “People came together. You didn’t have to be in the city or in Shanksville or in the Pentagon, you just had to be an American that day and see that people came together like no other day,”

The foundation continues to work in that spirit.

Hartswick continues to make a difference working with the firm Techline Trauma and using his experience as a combat medic to train first responders.

“I train law enforcement. I train EMTs. I train SWAT teams. We are actually getting into the military where I am starting to train soldiers again, and that is such an emotional experience for me,” said Hartswick. “Every time I teach a class it is such a cathartic experience for me.”

For Hartswick, he said there is no way he can thank all the people that came together to make this happen.

“I can say that each and every person involved has changed my life,” said Hartswick. “They are making my life a whole lot simpler. I wish they could experience just one day of seeing how I live my life now, just so they could understand just how much easier my life is going to be when I live in the house. It goes back to the tiny, little things. If they could just live one day in a wheelchair, they could see how much I would benefit from all the hard work and all the time and all of the money they dedicated to this project. I can’t thank them enough.”


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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